Pope urges peace, independence for Lebanon
May 11, 1997
Web posted at: 9:15 a.m. EDT (1315 GMT)
BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass on
a field created out of a landfill of rubble from Lebanon's
long civil war Sunday, delivering a message of peace and
reconciliation to more than 300,000 Christians gathered on
the 34-acre site.
(978K/25 sec. QuickTime movie)
"I am certain that the sufferings of the past years will not
be in vain," the pope said in his homily. "They will
strengthen your freedom and unity."
The war-torn skyline of Beirut rose over the site of Beirut's
former Green Line battlefront as the pope opened the Mass --
part of the first papal visit to the Middle East since 1964
and the first ever to Lebanon -- in Arabic.
"Salaam aleikum (peace be with you)," he said.
Also on Sunday, the pope released a 200-page Apostolic
Exhortation calling for a reconciliation between Christians
and Muslims and urging the complete independence of Lebanon.
"I am aware of the current great difficulties: the
threatening occupation of the south of Lebanon, the economic
plight of the country, the presence of non-Lebanese forces on
the territory," the 76-year-old pontiff wrote in the
The pope did not directly call for a pullout of Syrian and
Israeli troops from Lebanon -- about 35,000 Syrians and 2,000
Israelis are stationed there -- as Lebanese bishops did in
1995. The pope's document was in response to the bishops'
Lebanon's Christians have long felt left out of the political
process in the country, where a pro-Syrian, Muslim-dominated
government rules. The pontiff took note of the Christians'
feeling of isolation.
"No spiritual community can live if it is not recognized, if
it finds itself in precarious conditions and if it does not
have the chance to participate fully in the life of the
nation," he wrote.
Thousands of Christians fled the country -- which has more
than a dozen officially recognized religions -- during the
1975-1990 civil war. Both in his Mass and in the document,
the pope urged that the two faiths come together for the sake
of the country.
"To be really itself, Lebanon needs all its sons and
daughters and all components of its population," he said.
"Each has its place in the country and must rediscover the
taste for living there and taking up the challenge of its
The pope was greeted by thousands of Lebanese Christians
before Mass Sunday as he was driven through Christian
villages along the Mediterranean Sea. He also visited the
Maronite Catholic shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in the hills
north of Beirut.
The Maronites are Lebanon's largest Christian sect, and were
considered heretics when they first took refuge in the region
in the 4th century. They have long since reconciled with the
Correspondent Brent Sadler and Reuters contributed to this
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